MELBOURNE, Australia -- Jessica Pegula is seeing the tennis ball like a watermelon and she's doing everything she can to keep it that way.
The World No.3 kicked off her Australian Open by winning the first nine games before closing out a 6-0, 6-1 victory in under an hour against Romania's Jaqueline Cristian.
"I think winning matches like that, knowing I'm playing really focused every single point and not letting any kind of points or games go to waste, I think that helps your game a lot," Pegula said after the win. But at the same time, you know, sometimes it's just matchups, sometimes it's just a good day, sometimes there's a lot of other factors that just kind of make it a perfect recipe.
"I still try to take every match as a new match, and I go in honestly expecting it to be a really, really tough battle. So when it happens like this, it's just kind of a nice surprise."
Pegula has enjoyed an outstanding start of the season, going 4-1 at the United Cup to lead the Americans to the title. Her United Cup run included a 6-2, 6-2 win over Iga Swiatek, which snapped a four-match losing streak to the World No.1. Though she's quick to put caveats on the win due to the conditions favoring her, she is also aware that the match was a showcase for just how devastating her game can be.
"I felt like I played pretty flawless in a way," Pegula said. "It was just one of those matches where I really liked the conditions there and I was feeling it."
But it wasn't just one red-hot performance from Pegula. The 28-year-old has been in the zone for her last five matches. She has lost more than two games in a set just twice in her 10 ten sets.
Pegula is trying not to overthink her current level. And she's taking lessons from the men's game to keep it that way. She has been warming up frequently with the ATP's Frances Tiafoe, a partnership that formed during the United Cup when the two were regularly scheduled to play on the same day. Neither has lost a match since.
"My nerves usually come out in practice where I'm not hitting well and I'm freaking out, and Frances is just so happy-go-lucky. The biggest hype person ever," Pegula said.
"I think it's good I hit with him yesterday because it kind of relaxed me a little bit. I'm a little bit more focused, which he needs, so I think it helps him in that way. And I think he likes hitting with me, he says, for the rhythm.
"He says he feels like the best player in the world when he hits with me. We give each other a little confidence, I guess."
Taking cues from former No.1 Ashleigh Barty and her experience warming up with ATP players, Pegula said a more relaxed approach has steadied her usual, more frenzied routine.
"Most of the guys I know, when they go to warm up or they hit, especially before a tournament, they're pretty relaxed," Pegula said. "They're just out there trying to get a little bit groove, not chasing down balls. They're not freaking out, they're not really working on anything.
"I think girls are a little bit different in that aspect except for I remember maybe warming up with Ash. I felt she warmed up like a guy. She takes like five serves, hits a couple of slices, and she's done.
"I have tried to do that more. I think hitting with Frances forces me to do that, because I'm like I don't want to look like I'm some crazy overanalytical player. I always say to my coach, if I'm not ready by now, I'm never going to be ready. I play in an hour. I've got to get over it. I think it helps."
Had to do it after the Bills win right before I went on court!! https://t.co/O0FTsgpSdy— Jessie Pegula (@JLPegula) January 16, 2023
Whatever keeps Pegula in the zone will go a long way toward making good on the growing whispers about her title chances in Melbourne. The Australian Open has been her most successful Slam, having made back-to-back quarterfinals the past two years.
Pegula may be on cruise control at the moment, but she's well aware how quickly things can change.
"I feel like I'm making every single return," Pegula said when asked to describe how it feels when she's in the zone. "I feel like second serves, I'm being super-aggressive but also giving myself good margins. I don't feel like I'm going for anything that seems stupid. Even if it maybe isn't the highest percentage shot on paper when you're looking at it, to me, I know I'm going to make it.
"Sometimes, though, it's hard when I'm playing like that. It's hard because I also want to overhit. 'Oh, my god, it's slow motion, I have to settle down.' So it's nice, but then honestly sometimes I don't like when I'm seeing it that well, because I feel like something is about to go off.
"But, yeah, I mean, I shouldn't really complain about that, but it's true."
Pegula will face Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Wednesday.